Friday, March 12, 2010

Paul Wing's Spelling Bee

Did you know that the first-ever televised game show -- in 1938 -- was a spelling bee?

According to, that program (or rather, programme) began with a US vs. UK match featuring Harvard and Oxford students (US won), followed by a US/UK rematch featuring actresses and various notables (UK won), followed by "Under Twenty" vs. "Over Forty" (over 40 won), followed by Women vs. Men (women won). The show was a tight 15 minutes, and was ultimately canceled when the imminent war made televised spelling seem a bit frivolous. Incidentally, the spelling bee game show led to several spinoffs, including, amazingly, Tactile Bee.

The impetus for this post is that my longtime Williamsburg Spelling Bee co-host, bobbyblue, found a copy of the board game "Paul Wing's Spelling Bee" on eBay, purchased it, and allowed me to borrow it for purposes of investigative reporting.

The game of zest and test!

(Apparently, Paul Wing was a giant in the field of film stereography, continuing his career from the 1930s through the 1990s, and also, according to IMDB, survived the Bataan Death March; it is perhaps lost to the shifting sands of time exactly how Mr. Wing ended up hosting a televised spelling bee).

What's inside!


Apparently, spelling fans are called "rooters."

Every hostess will appreciate a game that doesn't require moving the furniture!

One of the harder sets of words. One list had food words, including "pumpkin."

The game was played by choosing a word caller, then going around the room and having people pull numbered disks out of a bag; the number on the disk determined the word you would spell (and some words were notably easier than others, so it was a bit of a game of chance). Correct moves got you a little green counter called a "honey," and wrong moves got you a little red counter called a "stinger" (because it's a bee, get it?)

I only had my gentleman consort around, and it's a pretty lame game with only two people. I asked him to spell "blancmange," and he insisted that I had not pronounced it like a true French person (neither, I imagine, did most people playing Paul Wing's Spelling Bee in 1938), so I gave him a re-do and he got "pumpkin." We sort of shrugged and gave up.

Zest and test! I kind of like the slogan.

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